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Remote Work Conflict: Mitigation Prevents Litigation

— July 16, 2021

Conflicts for remote workers are more commonplace due to the stressors of working from home and the fact that conflicts are not addressed face-to-face as they arise.

Our great remote work experiment has shown us that working from home has a lot of perks—no rush-hour traffic, PJs all day, and literally all the comforts of home at your fingertips. 

But, unfortunately, working from home for many means greater stress due to juggling childcare and work, feeling isolated, and working longer hours. This stress increases workplace conflicts.

A short text can be misconstrued as rude, a well-meaning joke can spiral out of control, and lack of face-to-face real-time resolutions can mean those texting behind their computers turn aggressive and insulting. 

A recent study showed that:

  • 80% of remote employees experienced remote workplace conflict
  • 51% felt that their conflict could have been avoided had their supervisor been more proactive 
  • 40% felt that conflicts occurred because people sound short in messages when they don’t intend to
  • 46% were using a work messaging app when they were in conflict 

This shows that remote work conflict is rampant and could most likely be avoided if HR and management provide tips and training on how to communicate effectively. 

The Cost of Conflict 

It’s important to implement measures to mitigate conflicts in order to avoid the costs of a legal case. 

Remote workers experiencing conflict may want to open a harassment, bullying, or discriminatory case, depending on how a conflict plays out. Conflict in the workplace is extremely costly. It’s estimated that U.S. companies lose $359 billion per year due to workplace conflicts because of decreased work performance and diminished employee morale.

It’s been found that 25% of judgments for workplace conflict cases can cost upwards of $500,000. 

How can this be avoided?

Frequent Communication

As mentioned above, more than half of the respondents in the remote workplace study felt that their conflicts could have been avoided had their supervisors taken steps to prevent it. 

One way to avoid conflicts becoming legal is to “hyper communicate.” 

Managers must bear in mind that being remote means that employees are feeling a bit disconnected. In order to bridge the gap, it’s important to schedule frequent meetings with the team and also individual employees. Those meetings can sometimes only have open chatting on the “agenda.” 

If employees feel that they can confide in their boss, they’ll be more likely to express issues before they erupt and become a full-blown dispute. 

This is one strategy—giving employees the green light to engage more and share what’s going on in their worlds means the “little things” are mentioned, which can otherwise become significant problems. 

Offering training that will raise awareness about how to resolve disputes is another solid way to prevent conflicts from getting to the point of needing a mediator. 

Conflict Management Training 

It’s a great investment. One which will pay for itself, and then some. 

An investment in conflict resolution training is ideal for managers, and also all levels in the organization, if possible. It means all the losses in productivity, employee retention, motivation, and engagement that come with poorly-managed conflict will be greatly alleviated. 

In one study by CPP Inc., 60% of employees hadn’t had conflict management classes, but of those who did, 95% said that the training helped them traverse workplace conflict in a positive manner. They stated that they were able to resolve it with mutually beneficial outcomes.

It behooves HR leaders to send the message that differences of opinion are opportunities for greater understanding and growth if handled well. This can be done with even basic conflict management training. 

Educate Employees on Text-iquette

Image credit Monika Svajdova on Wunderstock (license).
Image credit Monika Svajdova on Wunderstock (license).

Texting has become the new normal as it goes hand-in-hand with remote work. Some employees may not know what constitutes polite texting practices. 

It’s important to educate employees on what is considered acceptable and unacceptable. As can be seen from the aforementioned study, most conflicts occurred while sending private messages through a work messaging app, such as Slack. 

Sometimes employees make innocent mistakes with texting if they’re not used to relying on this as their primary form of communication. 

Lay out these texting guidelines in order to avoid employees feeling offended: 

  • Answer messages as promptly as possible. An unanswered or long-delayed answer can be interpreted badly. (By the same token, don’t assume the worst if someone doesn’t answer quickly. S/he might be very busy or unavailable.) 
  • Keep things professional. Don’t get too personal on a work app. 
  • Avoid texting others during video chats. You’ll appear disrespectful to those in the meeting. 
  • Shy away from emojis in messages, which can be taken out of context.
  • Respect others’ time. Don’t ping someone who’s on lunch or out of the office. 
  • Use greetings, such as “Hello” or “Good morning” for the day’s first texts. 
  • Be respectful of time zone differences. 
  • Avoid talk of politics or religion. 
  • Refrain from sarcastic humor which can be taken badly.

Educating employees about how to text in an appropriate way can certainly be a valuable strategy in work-from-home conflict prevention. 

The Bottom Line

An ounce or two of prevention goes a long way in preventing remote workplace conflict. 

Conflicts for remote workers are more commonplace due to the stressors of working from home and the fact that conflicts are not addressed face-to-face as they arise. It’s not possible to simply walk over to your coworker’s work station, see their body language and facial expression and just address issues on the spot. 

Adding more video chats, providing conflict management training, plus educating employees on what not to do when texting will all significantly reduce conflict costs. Plus, it shows commitment to the well-being of your employees.

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